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Spark in interest recharges Tesla

Bright spark: Tesla says the seven-seat Model X, the second mainstream model to join the battery-powered car-maker’s line-up, is close to production.

Tesla maps out product push including ute, city car as Model X and local S draw near

20 Jan 2014

TESLA Motors has hinted at even more battery-powered vehicles in its future as the US electric car-maker displayed a near-production version of its all-new seven-seat Model X SUV at the Detroit motor show last week.

Shown alongside the Model S liftback, which is due in Australia by late 2014, the Model X is, according to Tesla, still receiving minor aerodynamic tweaks ahead of being signed off for production late this year.

The vehicle, featuring unique gullwing doors that open up a huge space for access to the second- and third-row seats, will sell alongside the Model S – the brand’s first mainstream model that launched in the US in 2012 after Tesla entered the market with the two-seat, Lotus Evora-based Roadster in 2008.

According to German car magazine AutoBild, Tesla could launch a cut-price version of the $US80,000 ($A91,000) Model S, called the Model E, by as early as 2015.

Tesla has also revealed it is working on a battery-fuelled pickup truck based on a standalone platform, and is considering the case for a city-friendly hatchback.

The news comes as Tesla revealed sales of its five-seat Model S had soared beyond forecasts, with 6900 sold and delivered in the last three months of 2013.

As a result, the company says it expects revenue to increase in line with the extra sales, giving hope to wary investors that the company could post its second-ever quarterly profit in more than a decade.

It also plans to double its sales and service centres around the globe. It currently has 66 retail outlets worldwide and said in Detroit that it is poised to open another 41 soon on its way to at least 130 centres.

“Our biggest challenge continues to be recruiting enough people to staff the centres,” said Tesla’s vice-president of worldwide sales and service, Jerome Guillen.

Tesla recently opened a dealership in Beijing, China, where Mr Guillen said the company expects the Model S “could do very well” when it is launched in the world’s biggest automotive market early this year.

The jump in sales – mainly in the US but also Europe, where Tesla has a manufacturing base in Norway – comes after the US National Highway Transport Safety Administration last year awarded the Model S the highest-ever crash test score for a passenger vehicle, and despite a spate of battery fires that sparked a high-level investigation into the car.

Tesla has since said it has solved the battery fire problem by tweaking software to change the way the batteries recharge, and also lifting the Model S ride height at highway speeds to add a buffer from objects lying on the road that could flick up and puncture the bank of lithium-ion batteries sandwiched beneath the car’s floor.

The car-maker says it is expecting “reckless” growth this year as it expands into China for the first time – a region where it anticipates sales of its Model S will grow significantly.

As GoAuto has reported, Tesla has also flagged a return to Australia this year with the Model S, which is due around July.

Tesla first ventured into Australia in 2011 with the $206,108 Roadster and $241,389 Roadster Sport two-seat sportscars that were discontinued the following year.

In 2009, before the brand’s official arrival here, Adelaide-based internet entrepreneur Simon Hackett set a worldwide distance record for electric cars when he drove the Roadster 501km on a single charge as part of the Global Green Challenge race.

The car – the only Tesla in Australia at the time – was bought for $160,000, and during the race from Darwin to Adelaide was shadowed by a truck-mounted electric generator that was used to recharge it.

Tesla is working towards a 2015 reveal in Detroit featuring the third generation of its electric car technology that should make it into production in about 2017.

In the meantime, the only other model confirmed by the car-maker is an all-wheel-drive version of the Model S, due on sale in 2015.

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